When asked to speak candidly about Kim Min-jae, his assistant, Orange Ball CEO Hong Dong-hyun, went on to explain the player’s unique mindset.
When we met in Munich in late July, Hong had just gone to the government office to establish Orange Ball’s German subsidiary. The company, which was more of a one-man agency for Kim Min-jae, has moved clients from Beijing Guoan to Fenerbahce (2021), Napoli (2022), and this year to Bayern Munich. At Bayern, he should stay a little longer. Hong was laying the groundwork to support Kim well locally.
In close communication with Mauro, the Portuguese agent introduced by Footballist earlier, Hong has been pushing for three transfers of Kim Min-jae. Hong, who speaks fluent German and has lived in the country, has been exceptionally busy traveling back and forth between Korea and Germany since the transfer was finalized. The mission of Orange Ball is to be a company that allows players to focus on soccer whenever they want, just like the orange balls for bad weather they used to play in Germany as children. As we talked, Mr. Hong was still trying to figure out the best environment for his players’ conditioning.안전놀이터
Hong, who has known Kim since he was a student at Yonsei University, emphasized “goal-oriented” when asked to characterize the player. However, rather than talking about Kim Min-jae at the time, he mainly wanted to talk about how he has changed since entering Europe. The year he spent at Fenerbahçe, a prestigious club in the Turkic region, changed him a lot.
“After the successful Istanbul derby against Galatasaray, I felt that Kim Min-jae’s footballing will was stretched even further. The atmosphere of the derby made me realize that this is European football, and I felt like I had finally landed in Europe. I remember him saying that day, ‘The pressure and weight are definitely different. After that, I became more serious. I feel like an adult as a soccer player.”
“I played for about half a season in Turkiye. I made some big mistakes against Gaziantep and conceded a goal. What impressed me was my reaction after that game. It was special because I was determined not to make mistakes. After that, he asked me to give him a lot of pointers. That’s when we started having a lot of conversations about my performance. He’s very open to hearing other people’s opinions. He talks openly about his mistakes with me and his agents.”
Kim Min-jae’s goal is to not make mistakes. Hong’s words echo what Kim said in a recent interview with Footballist: “I’m a person who is more afraid of failure than success.” When he has a good game, he doesn’t say much, but when he’s not satisfied with himself, he has long conversations on Messenger. In a game where offensive and defensive roles are divided, this may be a natural value for a player who aspires to be the best in the world as a center back.
“Kim Min-jae has his own highlight. During his time at Napoli, in addition to the game against AC Milan, which everyone knows, there was another game that others don’t know about but think about. In Turkiye, it was against Galatasaray and in the second half against Trabzonspor. I always keep those games in my mind as examples of mistake-free days. With this attitude, I try not to make the same mistake twice. Of course, you can always make mistakes, but I don’t do the same things I did in the past.”
His tendency to keep things simple and easy also stems from an almost obsessive awareness of mistakes. Whether it’s positioning or movement, he tries to play a simple game first, and if the coach demands it, he’ll mix in some risky plays. Even at Napoli, he could see Luciano Spalletti constantly asking him to get up top more often. “By meeting with European managers, my ability to autonomously manage my physical condition and performance has increased a lot,” Hong said.
Dreaming of more Korean defenders in Europe
Orange Ball has been more of a one-man agency for Kim Min-jae. While the agency is opening a local office in Germany to provide support for Kim, it also has its sights set on helping other players make it to Europe. “We want to help Korean defenders blossom in Europe, and it would be great if we could work with Kim Min-jae to prepare for that. We don’t want to expand too much, but we want to think about how to give players with potential a chance in Europe.”